The youngest occupants of the Enabling Village hail from AWWA Kindle Garden, Singapore’s first inclusive preschool.
For parents with special-needs children, Kindle Garden represents a new option among the mainstream schools and early intervention services available. Besides providing both preschool and childcare services, all aspects of Kindle Garden are inclusive: from a curriculum and pedagogy that supports diverse learning, to facilities that are designed to be accessible to children with and without special needs.
By supporting diverse learning, children can learn at their own pace while gaining sensitivity and positive attitudes towards people different from them. Special-needs kids benefit from nurturing social relationships away from segregation and negative attitudes.
We talk to Daniel Cheong, 32, affectionately known as “Teacher Daniel” to his class of 14 preschoolers.
You’ve previously taught in mainstream preschools. What is Kindle Garden doing differently?
It’s the whole concept of not just including them in a space but also seeing how we can engage them together in a mainstream setting. Unlike in a mainstream preschool, we work with children who have different levels of needs and this challenge is pretty new for me. We have an in-house allied health support group, which consists of an occupational therapist, a speech therapist, an interventionist and an associate psychologist. Together, we look at developing individual learning plans for each child by identifying where they are now and projecting a goal for them. For instance, if a child tends to play alone, the goal will be to find one friend to play with. If a child has many friends but is minimally verbal, we see how we can introduce appropriate phrases to express himself or herself.
You studied business in university, but chose to join early childhood education. What misconceptions are there about a preschool educator’s job?
Many overlook the importance of preschool education, The role of a preschool teacher extends beyond the daily routine. But it’s at the age between one to six years old that neurons in the brain start to connect and what they do during this period will have lasting effects. Teaching at Kindle Garden allows me to see how important it is for a child to get a good foundation yet at the same time understanding they are still children, and so playing is the best form of learning for them. It’s about allowing them to enjoy learning first, rather than struggling to learn.